KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Lack Of Insurance Driving Up Number Of Patients Who Seek ER Dental Care

With that increase comes a related jump in costs.

The Associated Press: More Americans Seeking Dental Treatment At The ER
More Americans are turning to the emergency room for routine dental problems — a choice that often costs 10 times more than preventive care and offers far fewer treatment options than a dentist's office, according to an analysis of government data and dental research. Most of those emergency visits involve trouble such as toothaches that could have been avoided with regular checkups but went untreated, in many cases because of a shortage of dentists, particularly those willing to treat Medicaid patients, the analysis said (Tanner, 2/28).

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Emergency Dental Care Up 16%; Lack Of Insurance Cited
Preventable dental conditions resulted in an estimated 890,000 emergency department visits nationally in 2009, a 16% increase from 2006, according to a report from the Pew Center on the States. The problem can be seen in Wisconsin and is a long-standing frustration for the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The association has estimated that 32,000 patients with dental problems, such as an infected tooth, are seen by hospital emergency departments each year (Boulton, 2/27).

California Healthline: Dental Problems Showing Up as Emergencies
In fact, [Shelly Gehshan, director of the national Pew Children’s Dental Campaign] said, California's dental care system can only handle about 70% of the need in the state, and that's if the system were actually at full capacity. ... Training more dentists is likely not the full solution, she said. "Generally, dentists go out and practice in the same ways and places that dentists already practice," Gehshan said. "Most of them don't accept Medi-Cal, so in a way you'd just be adding more dentists to the current system" (Gorn, 2/28).

In other news related to health insurance coverage and access to care -

The New York Times: At-Risk Patients Gain Attention Of Health Insurers
One percent of patients account for more than 25 percent of health care spending among the privately insured, according to a new study. Their medical bills average nearly $100,000 a year for multiple hospital stays, doctors' visits, trips to emergency rooms and prescription drugs. And they are not always the end-of-lifers. They are people who suffer from chronic and increasingly common diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure (Abelson, 2/27).

(Minneapolis) Star-Tribune: Rosenblum: Fighting For His Life - And For A Bed To Sleep In
(Editor's note: Blake Anderson died Monday morning, a day after this column was published.)
Since being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2008, [17-year old Blake Anderson] and his single mom, Michelle Anderson, have been couch-hopping and hoping for a miracle -- or two. ... Apartment evictions have dogged her since Blake's diagnosis, mainly because she finds it impossible to work and be the full-time support system her son needs as he navigates life with endless medications and doctor's appointments (Rosenblum, 2/27). 

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